Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Spanglish Fly and Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band at R Bar, NYC 3/31/10

The only bad thing about this party was that it couldn’t go all night. Both Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band and New York’s only current bugalu dance band, Spanglish Fly, came across as the kind of acts who do best when they have the whole evening, when they can ride the grooves for all they’re worth, taking the energy as high as it can go. But their show Wednesday night on lower Bowery was still a good one, even if it was a little tantalizing, each band getting a tad short of an hour onstage. It was almost as if just as when the party started to really cook, somebody raided the fridge and stole all the forties. Spanglish Fly did a song about something similar to that: getting busted by lazy NYPD cops who make their monthly quota of arrests with the least possible effort or imagination. “Open container!” the band chanted sarcastically; “Put out that J!” frontwoman Erica Ramos warned her baritone sax player.

With piano, congas, bongos, timbales, bass and a blazing horn section, Spanglish Fly are bringing back the bugalu beat, equal parts salsa and soul, that was everywhere in New York thirty-five years ago, and putting their own spin on it. Because this is dance music, they really get the percussion going, their bongo player getting a serious workout this time around, especially on their opening number, an inspired version of the Ray Barreto classic New York Soul, available on their excellent new cd. Ramos took advantage of the next number’s vamp to introduce the instruments Sly Stone style, trumpet and trombone delivering sizzling solos. They brought Sonia from Sonia’s Party up for a duet on I Heard It Through the Grapevine (a typical bugalu move, latinizing a 60s pop song), Ramos’ sultry alto contrasting with her counterpart’s brassy, sassy wail. Their last song, Pensamiento, took it to the next level, a fiery minor-key hook winding up the chorus, evoking a Spanish Harlem of the mind around 1965 where you’d be able to see a teenage Willie Colon lurking around the back of the club, doing some politics, strategizing a career – and El Canario might have stopped in too.

Sonia’s Party put their own imaginative, danceable spin on catchy 60s soul and Motown. Their frontwoman is a big belter. She’s got all the gospel vocal moves going on, but not in a showoff, American Idol way – what she does just seems natural. The band is killer: fat rhythm section, a terse guitarist who knows his vintage Stax/Volt, a smart and frequently haunting Rhodes pianist and three-piece horn section. They opened with an instrumental featuring a nice growling guitar solo, then brought Sonia up. A lot of her songs start with a long, passionate vocal intro and then warp into a bouncy three-minute soul-pop number. The cautionary dancefloor tale Bad Man was full of tense, unexpected major/minor shifts in the tune; the one before that, maybe titled Can’t Tear My Heart from You could have been a Memphis hit around 1967. But as retro as the tunes are, their sound is uniquely their own. They brought up Erica Ramos and a guy named Jermaine to take turns on the vocals on an actually inspired version of the Ike and Tina arrangement of Proud Mary. A little later, they did a jazzy one where after Sonia had sung her heart out, they brought up a rapper who gave a rapidfire account of his side of a love affair gone wrong. They closed with an obvious crowd-pleaser, a hip-hop duet about checking out people on the subway set to an early 70s-style funk tune. They probably would have gone twice as long if they’d had the chance – and it would have been nice to have been able to stick around for the next band, but it was time to go check out people on the subway before it turned into a pumpkin. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Transit Authority realized that some people have to get home before 4 AM? And in case you were wondering, these multiethnic bands drew a beautifully multiethnic, quintessentially New York crowd – there wasn’t a single bedhead or lumberjack beard in sight.

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April 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments